IAFC Conference in Salt Lake City
The accent was on fire service administrative problems and techniques at meetings and workshops during the 101st annual conference of the International Association of Fire Chiefs at Salt Lake City September 15-19.
Commissioner John Hurley of Rochester, N.Y., was elected president at the annual election. Succeeding him as first vice president was Chief David B. Gratz of Montgomery County, Md., Fire/Rescue Services. Chief Myrle K. Wise of Denver was elected second vice president in a contest with Chief Byron D. Hollander of Oklahoma City. Chief G. A. Mitchell of Opelika, Ala., was reelected treasurer.
Speaking for the first time as president at the conference banquet, Hurley promised the chiefs, “I will devote my entire time this coming year to your interests.”
The new president, who succeeded Chief Beverly Wade of New Minas, Nova Scotia, added that he hopes to blend the old and new members of the IAFC into a team that will make the association even more effective in its leadership of the fire service.
Inspections and the law
In a discussion of legal actions that members of the fire service face, Darrel L. Johnson, a Portland, Ore., lawyer, pointed out that the United States Supreme Court decisions requiring warrants before making fire inspections over the objections of a property owner have not resulted in any great hardship for the fire service. He reported that there was only one refusal out of 12,000 fire inspections in the City of Miami and a mere three or four out of 22,000 fire inspections in New Haven, Conn.
Johnson stated at a metropolitan workshop session that a warrant is not needed to make a fire inspection in an emergency situation, according to a Supreme Court decision. The lawyer also noted that according to a decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the owner of a property need not be made aware of his right to refusal when a normal inspection is conducted. However, if the fire department plans criminal process at the start of the inspection, the lawyer warned, then the owner must be made aware of his rights to refuse to let the inspectors come on his property without a warrant.
Injuries at fires
The decisions in several cases, Johnson noted, allow a tenant to give consent for the inspection of a building he occupies without notifying the owner. A warrant also is not needed, the lawyer noted, when a visual inspection of property is made by inspectors remaining outside the boundaries of that property. The status of the fire fighter as a licensee or invitee when he is injured on a property during a fire also was discussed by Johnson. The preponderance of court decisions still regard fire fighters as licensees, Johnson advised, but added that many of the more recent decisions are regarding the fire fighter as an invitee. Johnson explained that a licensee takes the premises as he finds them except for unusual hazards one would not expect to find on property. He earlier said that the property owner bears almost no liability when a fire fighter is involved in the danger that he went to combat.
He said that there had been recoveries when the dangers encountered were not reasonably expected to be present on the property.
In evaluating a fire inspector’s responsibility for making improper inspections, Johnson stated, the courts have found that fire fighting is a governmental activity and the government cannot be sued. As for the individual fire fighter, lower officials are generally immune from recovery for discretionary acts in which they did what they thought best, the lawyer explained. He said that he didn’t think inspectors could be held responsible for making improper inspections but that he expects such suits in the years ahead.
In talking about the emergency vehicle status for fire apparatus the speaker stressed that the apparatus “must be on an emergency mission.” He warned that apparatus returning from the scene of an alarm have been found by the courts to be on a nonemergency status. He noted one case in Washington, D.C., in which the court ruled that an engine was on an emergency mission when it responded to the plight of a two-year-old locked in a bathroom. He also reported that court rulings have upheld the emergency status of apparatus when they have responded to alarms outside the city limits.
Johnson mentioned an Oregon case in which the driver and officer of an apparatus said that the use of the siren and emergency lights protected them against recourse in a suit. The court held, however, that it was the duty of an emergency vehicle driver to drive with due regard for all persons using the highway in addition to sounding a siren and using emergency lights.
In brief mention of subrogation, the speaker warned the chiefs that this is a growing legal action and they would find it necessary to have their records in good condition and should make certain to do a competent investigation of fires which later may be the subject of subrogation proceedings.
At an urban workshop session, what a city manager is looking for in a fire chief was described as primarily an administrator, rather than the leading fire fighter, who is flexible enough to question traditional methods and search for new answers.
Claude D. Malone, Jr., city manager of Fairborn, Ohio, charged that traditional methods of the fire service have failed and statistics indicate this.
“As a fire chief, you should be looking for future changes,” Malone declared.
He urged the chiefs to “use the minds of men at all levels of the department” and said that the chief’s job demands more flexibility in approaching his problems.
The speaker declared that chiefs can no longer regard traditional methods as gospel and added that they should not be “hung up on promotions by seniority.”
Malone charged that getting more apparatus and hiring more men has not worked in solving the fire protection problem and recommended that chiefs should urge automatic sprinkler protection and automatic detection systems that are cost-effective for the property owner. He warned that the chief must he prepared for attacks by architects and property owners in making these recommendations for easing the municipal fire protection problem.
“Executive mobility and dual entry into the fire service will, over the years, improve the fire service,” the city manager declared.
Malone criticized the ISO Municipal Grading Schedule as building-oriented rather than people-oriented and noted that the schedule was “coming under constant attack.” He added that city managers need the advice of fire chiefs “based on facts and not emotion” for evaluating fire problems.
The city manager stated that the fire chief must coordinate planning and budget making to “make the fire department part of the management team of the municipality.” Malone stated that a fire department and a fire chief must “have a close working relationship with other city departments.”
In stressing the need for a high degree of administrative ability in a fire chief, the city manager said that a chief should not have to have a disastrous fire to know whether his department is “getting by on luck.” The speaker said that the chief should know beforehand by planning adequate training and providing proper equipment for his department.
In stressing the need for a comprehensive fire prevention program, Malone said that this would remove the department from the situation of “getting by on luck.” The same administrative fire prevention standards, the speaker said, should hold for volunteer as well as paid fire departments.
Communications called vital
The need for officers to learn how to issue orders that can be understood was stressed by Ray A. Simpson at a volunteer workshop session.
Simpson, a senior instructor in the fire service extension department at the University of Maryland, declared, “There is no way you can have an effective fire department without communicating.”
It is important, he said, that subordinates understand why they are asked to do something and what they are expected to do. Officers should make certain that this understanding is attained and, when necessary, offer the additional information needed to create an understanding. Overlong instructions should not be given verbally, the speaker advised.
“Sometimes the hardest thing for us to accept,” Simpson stated, “is the question, ‘Do I really know what I am talking about?’ If we are trying to talk to someone else and convince them of the importance of a job or task, it is extremely important that we think the entire project through completely before trying to sell it to someone else.”
Varied approach advised
The Maryland instructor stressed the value of understanding the personality of the person addressed and modifying your method of approach accordingly. A way of discussing a subject that works well with one person falls flat with another, Simpson noted. One thing to avoid is putting people on the defensive by your approach, he warned. Give people a chance to ask questions and offer suggestions, he added.
Simpson warned against chiefs bypassing the chain of command and issuing orders directly to men in the lower ranks, thereby ignoring staff officers Who are responsible for the work to be done.
“This can be why you aren’t getting effectiveness out of your staff officers,” Simpson warned.
Another facet of communications, the relationship between fire departments and the news media, was discussed by Assistant Chief John Passarella of the Denver Fire Department. He cited prompt notification of the press, and radio and television stations when newsworthy fires and other incidents occur as a keystone to good relations with the news media. Passarella said that the Denver Fire Department has a phone procedure for contacting all news media in the city at once when a newsworthy incident occurs.
He suggested that fire departments educate newsmen in fire service operations to give them a better background for presenting news about fire department activities. The chief noted that the number of stories in Denver papers in one year increased to 531 from 77 the previous year and commented that mention of fire department activities in the news media “boosts the morale of every man” in the department.
Have to seek help
“There are people out there waiting to help us, but we have to go to them. They won’t come to us,” Passarella commented. He urged fire departments to look around for feature stories as well as news stories, publicize awards to fire fighters and even search department archives for old photos that may interest the present generation.
Passarella recalled a Denver program to prevent deaths from the misuse of plastic bags. No more deaths were reported after the fire department conducted a program that stressed public education in the news media about the dangers of plastic bags. The department also induced merchants to use plastic bags that were perforated and had warnings printed on them.
Fire control bill
The status of the federal fire prevention and control conference bill, which has since been passed by Congress was discussed by Edward H. McCormack, director of the Massachusetts Fire Fighting Academy, at a legislative panel session during a general conference meeting.
Another member of the panel, Donald D. Flinn, IAFC director of information services, reported that the amendments to the federal Wage and Hour Act do not at present require overtime pay for fire fighters working a 56-hour week schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off. He explained that part-paid firemen come under the act and that fire departments do not have to pay overtime when it is the result of voluntary shift-trading by fire fighters for their own convenience.
The decision of most fire apparatus manufacturers not to display equipment at the conference exhibition was noted by Donald M. O’Brien, IAFC general manager. A pumper and an elevating platform, each from a different manufacturer, were the only major pieces of apparatus in the exhibition hall.
“Some 24 members of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Division, Truck Body and Equipment Association, decided not to exhibit this year and have stated they intend to exhibit just every other year in the future,” O’Brien explained in his annual report.
He added that this decision cost the IAFC “some $30,000” in exhibit revenue and commented that he was “deeply disturbed” by this “disappointment.” On the more cheerful side, O’Brien reported the receipt of a grant from the National Bureau of Standards to produce and distribute a series of technical bulletins on fire service subjects. The bulletins are expected to be developed by fire service people, the NBS and other agencies. An IAFC task force committee will review the material to select bulletins suitable for printing in small quantities by the IAFC, which will handle the distribution. Government printing facilities will be used if a bulletin requires a large printing.
Two changes in the IAFC constitution were approved. One amendment established an affiliate membership to “include but not be limited to, chartered or recognized state, county or area fire chiefs’ organizations” with an annual dues to be established by the IAFC directors. The other transferred cooperation from the now defunct International Fire Administration Institute to the recently formed Interantional Association of Fire Chiefs, Inc., Foundation in promoting “programs for the best interest of the fire service.”
The four resolutions approved by balloting urged action to seek federal funding for time-and-a-half pay for fire department employees, support of the IAFC Foundation, total cooperation with other groups in suppressing arson, and appreciation for the hospitality extended by the Salt Lake City Fire Department and Chief Leon De Korver.
At the final business session, the members adopted a resolution offered by former Chief John Pavlik of West Milwaukee, Wis., to place on the ballot at the conference next year in Las Vegas a proposed change in the constitution to permit a chief who had been elected second vice president to continue up the ladder to president if he had been forced to retire because of an age rule.